The moment he witnessed Slovak babičkas – elderly women – chant the rosary in a small Slovak chapel in the middle of a wheatfield on a blazing August afternoon, Gregory Fabian realised where he came from.
“It was very emotional. It just all kind of came together,” the second-generation Slovak-American lawyer and actor tells The Slovak Spectator.
This experience occurred in 1986, when his father took him on a week-long trip to eastern Slovakia for the first time. Back then, it was still part of Czechoslovakia and communists ruled the country. All four of Fabian’s grandparents had emigrated to America from eastern Slovakia at the turn of the 20th century. When he saw during the visit the meals his Slovak family cooked for them, how they lived and raised their children, and other aspects of Slovak culture, Fabian saw similarities in how his parents had raised him and his older brother.
“I started seeing how much of me actually had these Slovak roots that I wasn’t aware of,” he explains.
In America his parents kept some Slovak traditions. But they did not teach their two sons Slovak so as to avoid the discrimination they had experienced firsthand as children of immigrants. Fabian still remembers a Slovak folk song his mother used to sing to him, though.
“Keď som chodil do školy, učil som sa litery, jeden, dva, tri, štyri, to sú pekné litery [When I used to go to school, I used to learn letters, one, two, three, four, these are pretty letters],” he sings, in Slovak, over coffee.
This American, for whom Bratislava became home many years ago, says that he is grateful to Slovak people who regard him as Slovak. Yet, he thinks he will always be a foreigner because he does not know everything about the country of his ancestors. Nor is his Slovak perfect, he claims.
“I’m more of an American immigrant to Slovakia. That’s how I identify.”